Pushing the Boundaries

As writers, we constantly ride that line between being creative and just plain crazy. We want to be fresh enough that we stand out on the shelves, but not alienate readers – we want them to think WOW, not WTF. And the gatekeepers say on one hand they’re looking for something different, but then some things are so different they don’t have a market.

It’s easy to get sucked into this. I know, I’m always over-analyzing my writing now that I’m looking at it from an industry/publishing perspective. At first, I only wrote for myself. I wasn’t scared of what people would think, because I was the only one who would read it. Now I find myself constantly second guessing, and cutting lines or scenes that might turn people away. I’m embarrassed before anyone even reads it.

And then I think,  what am I doing?

It is our job to be crazy. It is our job to push the boundaries and try new things and turn the world inside out just to see what shape it will take. I love that about writing. Sometimes I worry so much about stepping too far outside the lines into crazy-land, that I forget. Writing doesn’t have boundaries. With only 26 letters, somehow the possibilities are limitless.

Exhibit A: from DFWCON. In the query gong show (which is basically a roast of people’s queries) there was a query so outlandish that everyone, including the agents, laughed through the whole thing. Like 80-year-old grandma and aliens in her backyard crazy. But guess what? It was one of only two queries that made it, and got requests. The crazy characters are the ones we remember. Donald Maas said in his character workshop, “Don’t be afraid to push your protagonist over the edge.” I love that.

And that’s something I’d really struggled with. I’d tried to reign in the really dark and twisted bits of my story to keep it marketable to a wide audience. But that’s the problem: it is dark and twisted. One of my main characters, Crow, is really dark and twisted. But he’s an assassin for the most ruthless drug lord in the city, with a background of torture and abuse. In other words, he has some serious issues. Watering his character and his scenes down to make it a pill easier to swallow just didn’t work. He ended up feeling flat.

Now, I’ve opened the cage door, taken the chains off, and explored where he can go. It’s taken me by surprise how much he’s come to life. It’s messed up, it’s dark, it’s disturbed, but it’s raw and emotional and powerful. I got chills while writing some parts, and cried while writing others. It’s real, and it’s him. He’s become my most vivid and dynamic character. It wasn’t fair to him, or my readers, to lock him away just because he might be a little too much crazy for some people. You know what? Those people are just dumb and boring. 😉

We’re self-conscious creatures, writers. Especially when we open up our writing to the world, with the possibility of it being picked apart. But don’t be scared of that, don’t even think about it. Write what is genuine. Write for yourself, and for your story, and for your characters.

It is ten thousand times better to be too much, than not enough. Don’t tiptoe up to the edge of crazy, dive off of it. Even if you don’t keep the crazy, you’ll find a whole new world of depth to your story in the process. Your characters and your readers will thank you.

 

 

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Query Critique, Pitch Slam, DFWCON, Oh My!

So I just got back from DFWCON! Which explains why I have been a little MIA. It was my first conference ever, and was a complete whirlwind. I am so exhausted (dead) I really don’t even know how I am functioning right now (I’m not)…and I’ll probably pay for it by taking a week to recover. So worth it though.

First, I will talk a little about Pitch Slam, which I participated in a week or so ago. Mainly, I learned not to listen to feedback. What? Let me rephrase that. Especially being new to the whole publishing process, I think I know nothing and that anything other people say (especially credible “experts”) is gold. It’s not. Feedback is great. You need it. You need to get out of your bubble and get fresh eyes and have someone tell you all the parts that don’t make sense or could be better or just plain suck (hopefully they don’t say suck). But I learned not to take it too seriously. It is still just someone’s opinion.

The best example of this is that prior to the contest, I got a free critique by an author. She told me she thought my pitch was perfect, and nitpicked some things about my first 250 but they were very constructive and helpful. I felt pretty confident going into the contest. Then I got my official Pitch Slam feedback. They called my pitch “disorienting” and “hard to imagine.” And then in the second Pitch Slam round they were much more positive about my first 250 (I think it was another person).

I also entered my query into an online query critique workshop, and had feedback ranging from “I love it” to more or less “throw it out”. I literally had someone tell me I’d never be able to get an agent (seriously?). And, by the way, if anyone ever gives you feedback like that, really don’t listen to them. I’ll be honest, that one hurt (and I’m not sensitive about critique), but I don’t think that ever needs to be said, or is ever true! Everyone has a chance, a lot of it is just luck and timing.

I’m sure you’ve heard this a dozen times, but it’s really all subjective. There are rules, but they’re not laws. And besides, rules are meant to be broken 😉

DFWCON. Wow. Honestly, I had no idea what to expect with my first conference. It was overwhelming but so eye-opening and educational and fun! I think the first day I was overstressed and overthinking it, and wasn’t able to enjoy it as much. Now I wish I could rewind and do it all over again, because I really just loved it. I could probably talk about this for days, but here’s the highlights.

My pitch went well! Got a request for a partial from the agent, so I am frantically trying to perfect my first pages and query. I was also able to talk with her more during lunch and around the conference, and feel like I made an impression. She remembered my name, so I’m hoping that will help when I query her! I made some great connections. Which, really, is what conferences are about. The workshops/panels were great (They had some fantastic authors/editors/speakers. Donald Maass is unbelievable) but I feel like you can kind of learn a lot of that stuff elsewhere. Conferences are really one of the only opportunities writers have to connect face-to-face. And I think becoming a part of the writing community is so important, no matter what stage of the process you’re at.

These are some of my favorite quotes I jotted down from various speakers:

“It took me one month to write it. It took me a year to make it a novel.” Bob Stewart

“Let yourself off the hook. Write a crappy first draft. That’s genuine.” Jonathan Maberry

“Send your protagonist over the edge.” Donald Maass

“What stops a lot of people writing is the belief that everything has to be perfect.” Jonathan Maberry

There were a ton of super memorable moments and wisdom nuggets, but my favorite was Donald Maass’ closing remarks (his character workshop was also fantastic, I wrote five pages of notes). I actually teared up it was that good. He talked about something I firmly believe in–that the best books have something to say. There are endless tips and tricks and techniques for being successful as a writer, but that’s what it boils down to. Write a great book first. Books are so, so, so powerful. A lot of times we underestimate ourselves as writers, and the impact we can have. We have the power to change the world, literally.

To sum it up, I’ll leave you with this from his closing remarks:

“Quit just trying to be published. Let’s change the world.”

What’s Up Wednesday

KITE2

 

What’s Up Wednesday is a weekly meme geared toward readers and writers, allowing us to touch base with blog friends and let them know what’s up. Should you wish to join us, you will find the link widget at the bottom of Jaime or Erin’s blog.

What I’m Reading

I am still reading Battle Magic by Tamora Pierce. I am about halfway through, and still loving it. I would have finished it by now (probably even in one sitting), but everything else has been so crazy lately I haven’t had much time for reading.

What I’m Writing

The past couple of weeks I’ve been getting ready for DFWCON, which is this weekend (eek!). I’ve rewritten my pitch and query about 10,000 times and been frustrated with my MS. Then, I had some deep talks with one of my CPs, and she said that I was trying to put it in the wrong genre, that it felt much more like a fantasy. I realized I had been trying to force it into sci-fi, when it really wasn’t, but when I made it into a science fantasy (it’s a thing) suddenly everything fit! So first I went back and rewrote my query/pitch (again) so those would be ready for DFWCON. Now that I’ve got those done, I’m in the process of making revisions on my MS to change the sci-fi and add fantasy elements. And so far, I’m loving it 🙂 I got to keep the integrity of the story, and it turned out 10x cooler, more interesting, and unique! Bye, bye dystopian, and yay genius CPs!

What Inspires Me

My fabulous CP Stephanie (she’s amazing, check out her blog here) has been unbelievable as far as brainstorming. She is also 100% honest and challenges me to be better, which I love. We have come up with some genius ideas together! I have been inspired and productive in art, I did a couple pieces this week (watercolor) and even some poetry. I went through a bunch of my old writing journals–three years worth–and dug through for the parts worth keeping. I was pleasantly surprised (especially since I wrote it when I was 13-15 years old) and reinspired by some gems I found in there. Little me was very melodramatic, but I had my occasional moments of greatness 😉 Some even have book potential, so I typed them into my laptop to save for later!

What Else I’m Up To

End of the semester, Pitch Slam, and DFWCON. Finals are in two weeks, and I’m scrambling to finish all the projects and papers that come before. I just finished the Pitch Slam pitch contest, which I will write a detailed post about after DFWCON this weekend. And DFWCON–I’ve reached panic mode! Two days left. I feel horribly unprepared, but I’ve done all the research and preparations I can. I am somewhat of a control freak, and definitely a huge planner, so I hate not really knowing what to expect since it is my first conference ever. Thankfully I’ll have the majority of my amazing writing group there for support and networking. That’s a huge part of my nerves, I think. I have social anxiety already, but especially in big groups or crowds. Plus this will be the first time I have to really “network”. I’m not the person who can just go up and strike a conversation. I tend to get nervous and blurt out nonsensical things/overshare about my life in order to fill up the awkward silence. But, it is my first conference and will be a great opportunity to learn and grow and get connected in the writing community. I’m just going to keep telling myself that, so I don’t panic 🙂

Happy Wednesday!